182. Thanksgiving

chapter 182

Jody and I had only been in Los Angeles for two months when Thanksgiving rolled around. We still couldn’t afford to turn on the gas in our apartment, so cooking anything that didn’t fit in a toaster oven was out. We didn’t know anyone other than our coworkers, and they were just as broke as we were. We couldn’t even sponge off anybody. Jody was homesick, and so was I. We felt pretty bleak.

“Come on,” she said. “Let’s get out of here.” She dipped into her stash of tip money and we walked up to Hollywood Boulevard. Scrooged was playing at the Chinese Theatre, so we ducked in. There’s no amount of misery that can’t be dislodged with a dose of Bill Murray. That was the theory, at least. We moped through the whole movie.

When it ended we walked down Highland Avenue and found a Sizzler that was open but empty. “Happy Thanksgiving!” the waitress said.

“Thanks. I’m sorry we’re making you work,” I said.

“It’s okay. I don’t have anywhere to be, either,” she said. Jody’s eyes welled up. “Oh, it’s okay, honey. Is this you guys’ first holiday in L.A.?”

“Yeah,” Jody said.

“It gets easier. Next year this time you’ll have a whole new family to celebrate with,” the waitress said.

After she left to get our drinks, Jody said, “I don’t think I can do this much longer.”

“Yeah you can. Things are going to be fine, baby. You’re going to start getting parts, I’ll find a better job, you’ll make some friends. We’re going to be okay.” We spent the rest of our Thanksgiving choking down shitty Sizzler turkey and tears while the the waitress shot us pitiful glances.

WIMbot_Web_BW_smAfter that I doubled down on harassing everyone who walked into the record store. What do you? That’s awesome, I’ve always wanted to do that. I didn’t care what the job was, just that it paid more than Music Plus. I even went on a mass audition to be one of those perky fuckers who walks around the Universal Studios theme park. My lack of perkiness was all too apparent.

Scooter, one of my record store buddies, found an open call for a national commercial and asked me to tag along. I knew from harassing actor customers that residuals on a national commercial were pretty good. I also knew that I didn’t have a chance, but I agreed to go for the same reason that poor people piss away money on lottery tickets.

There had to be 200 guys jammed into the casting office, all white, all in their twenties. An assistant with a Polaroid took our pictures then handed them to us. “Keep this with your resume, and if the director asks give it to him,” he said. I fanned mine back and forth, waiting for it to develop. A photo finally emerged of a rail thin stranger, pale and half awake, hair stringy and eyes dark and sunken.

Scooter’s Polaroid was perfect. Scooter’s was always perfect, because Scooter was perfect: 19 years-old, tall, dark hair and boyishly handsome. Girls came into Music Plus looking for the new B-52’s and later that night were hanging all over Scooter at Bob’s Frolic Room. And what was he doing drinking at the Frolic at such a tender age? His charm worked on bartenders, too. Everybody wanted to be around Scooter.

We were led in groups of ten into the next office, where we were lined up. A bored man leaned on his video camera. The casting director held a large, empty cup with lid and straw. “Okay, if I hand you the cup I want you to say your name and “That’s a lot of Coke.”

The bored dude fired up the video camera and the first guy took the cup. “I’m Andy Johnson. I’ve appeared in—”

“Just say the line.”

“Andy Johnson, and that is a lot of Coke.”

“Garrett Bridges, and that is a lot of Coke.”

“Matt Williams, and that is a lot of Coke.”

Each time the cup was handed off, the performance grew cornier. Scooter and I started laughing. The camera guy glared at us.

“My name is Chip Landry,” said the next actor, and then he sipped from the empty cup and looked surprised. “That’s a lot of Coke.” I still don’t understand why it took a sip to convince the Chipper that the 64 ounce cup he held contained a lot of Coke.

Scooter got a shot at the line, but he didn’t sell it. The casting director looked at my Polaroid and kept moving without a word.

I gave up on cattle calls after that. Acting wasn’t my thing, so I had neither the drive nor the patience needed to deal with constant rejection. I decided to focus on behind the scenes work, and pestering patrons at Music Plus still seemed like the way to go. I’d gotten one gig that way, no reason I couldn’t find more.

Hey, I’m James. What do you do? I’ve always wanted to do that.

Hey, I’m James. What do you do? I’ve always wanted to do that.

Hey, I’m James. What do you do? I’ve always wanted to do that.

I’m Tony. I’m a gaffer.”

“I’ve always wondered what a gaffer does,” I said.

“I’m an electrician on movies. Lights and things.”

“I’ve always wanted to do that.”

“Yeah? I’m always looking for grips.”

“What are those?”

“Assistants. You interested?”


Tony handed me his card. “I have a show coming up soon. Give me a call if you’re interested,” he said.

“What does it pay?”

“Nothing, but if you help me with some residential work I can pay you for that.”

And just like that I was back on a movie set, this time as an electrician’s apprentice.

modified photo Robert Belknap / Flickr Creative Commons

Categories: Memoir

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